Marin Cilic beating Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the US Open last year was a ‘fluke’, believes 5-time champion Pete Sampras; he was blurting out loud a thought many people have been harbouring in their minds. One year on, while predicting the winners, the defending champion’s name didn’t come anywhere in the top five.
The Big Four (obviously), Stan Wawrinka, and even Kei Nishikori’s name took precedence to Cilic’s. After all, who would care much about a ‘one Slam wonder’, right? Cilic broke all expectations and has made it to the semi-finals once again, and will take on Novak Djokovic next -- a player whom he has never managed to defeat yet.
13-0 head-to-head stats looks like a clean sweep; interestingly, saving for three of them -- their Grand Slam encounters -- it was more or less a lopsided win for Djokovic. 2014 Wimbledon (6-1 3-6 6-7 6-2 6-2), 2014 French Open (6-3 6-2 6-7 6-4) and 2008 US Open (6-7 7-5 6-4 7-6) -- constitute the three occasions where Cilic came close to Djokovic.
A logical conclusion will be that Cilic is no easy opponent when it comes to Slams. Sampras predicted Cilic will reach only the quarters. The former world No: 1 and the youngest US Open champion knows how hard it is to defend a title.
His own bid to defend his title in 1991 didn’t go beyond the quarters; that explains his hunch. He was wrong though. Cilic might have won a Major, but he still hasn’t earned the respect he deserves. Like the other second-tier players, he too is doomed to be in the periphery as long as the Big Four exists.